Ladies of the House

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Airdate: 9-10 p.m., Sat., Oct. 18 (Hallmark Channel)

Where is Christmas when you need it? This sentimental yet effective original movie from Hallmark Channel needs a season befitting its fundamental corniness and good cheer, and that's certainly not the coming of Halloween. Nonetheless, "Ladies of the House," an abundantly sweet story of three "mature" women who fix up a run-down house for their local church, is fun to watch, and it grows on you in spite of yourself.

The charming cast includes Florence Henderson, Pam Grier and Donna Mills, who pull off the difficult task of uttering inane dialogue written for them while still looking intelligent in the process. As three church-going women who agree to fix up an abandoned house and afterward sell it to make money for a daycare center, these actresses draw you in without much trouble. As their characters find themselves falling deeper and deeper into a Home Depot kind of culture, they manage to survive the project and even learn a thing or two about their own sense of self reliance.

Karen Lagasse Struck's very ordinary script and story couldn't deliver more predictability if they tried. Henderson, Grier and Mills often are burdened by the humdrum of their lines, not to mention the challenge of remaining two dimensional characters throughout. James A. Contner's direction follows suit, injecting a kind of sleepiness around the entire story that can't be shaken. Most of the time, the women seem to be sleepwalking in and out of their scenes, not to mention their characters. If it were not for their innate talent at getting the camera to like them, the story would fall even flatter than it does.

Brian Shanley's beautiful photography helps the story immensely. He gets some gorgeous exterior and interior shots than surely enhance the script. Niko Vilaivongs' leisurely editing style remains true to the story's gingerly pace and doesn't get in the way of the director's style, which itself highlights the three women by letting us see them intimately at times.

But these women really conquer the story's limitations because they know what to do as performers. They have personalities that shine, and even some zip, despite the lead in their heels. By story's end, they've won us over to the point that we even care what happens to them and to the house they're renovating. That might be a miracle of the far-ranging kind.

Production: Unity Films
Cast: Pam Grier, Florence Henderson, Donna Mills
Director: James A. Contner
Writer: Karen Lagasse Struck
Executive producer: Larry Levinson

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